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September 14, 2010

The Legacy of Our Genealogy

Everyone dies. It's a sad fact of life, and one we all face. For genealogists this natural order of things is compounded by the fact that we have invested so much time into researching our family tree. What will happen to our years of work once we're gone?

As we've discussed previously on Olive Tree Genealogy blog, genealogy is often a way of life, an addictive all-consuming hobby or avocation. If you're like me you have boxes and binders and filing cabinets chock full of papers and documents you've collected on your ancestors.

But do you have a plan for your papers after your passing? You not only need a person or repository for your work, you need to have it in some semblance of organization in order to pass it on.

Let's face it, do we really think anyone else wants our piles of unsorted papers? I can't think of anyone in my family who would offer a spot in their homes for my records. I have two 3-foot long filing cabinets, 3 drawers high - the kind that pull out so the files are sideways not facing front. I also have 2 smaller front-facing filing cabinets. I also have several large plastic tubs. They are all full of my genealogy research. I'm only kidding myself to think that anyone would take them and give up room in their house to store them.

And let's not forget my Genealogy program with data entered that is not printed off. I'm not even sure my husband knows how to access all those digital family files.

As avid genealogists we each need to put together a solid plan for our work. The plan should cover three areas:

1. Where will our work go - an individual family member? An institution?

2. In what format will our work be organized so that it can be passed on

3. How have you ensured that your executors or loved ones know about your plan

Many genealogists seem to think that an institution such as a local library or an Archives or Museum or the Family History Centre in Salt Lake City will jump at the opportunity to have the research. But have you verified that this is correct? Have you found out what format they want it in, IF they want it at all?

Do you know of an enthustiastic family member who is hoping you'll leave all your research to him or her? I don't!

My plan is to continue creating small family booklets which I've talked about previously on Olive Tree Genealogy Blog under the topic Genealogy Memory Books and also larger in-depth books.

In each of those I will place scans of documents I've found. It isn't realistic to think I can include scans of every single document for every individual - the census records alone would create a book so mammoth it would not be feasible to print it.

So I will note my sources carefully and accurately so that others reading my work will be able to duplicate (i.e., find) what I have found. I'll only be able to include scans of the more obscure documents, and of those which are original one-of-a-kind documents or photographs in my possession. I hope to create these booklets and donate them to local libraries during my lifetime. I plan on one booklet or book per family surname.

For family lines where I've not yet done in-depth research I will simply put together a very small booklet with a pedigree chart, family group sheets or genealogy report printed automatically from my genealogy program, and copies of documents. These I won't donate during my lifetime but will add to them as I can.

Instructions for disposal of my genealogy research notes and booklets have been added to the set of instructions I have for the executors of my will. Both my husband and my son know where this is kept. It's a large manilla envelope with several pages of important items - my bank accounts, credit cards, burial wishes, facts for my obituary, my wishes for disposal of family treasures, life insurance policies, etc. Everything to make my executors' lives easier.

I rest easy knowing I have a plan that I like. But I haven't yet begun organizing the genealogy data and that leaves me feeling uneasy. Genealogy is important to me. The truth and the story of my ancestors is something I am compelled to pass on to others.

Facing our own mortality isn't easy but it's inescapable and so I've vowed that 2011 will be the year I organize my over 40 years of research. Do you have a plan and a goal for ensuring that your genealogy research survives? What a wonderful legacy we can each leave if we take some time to make it happen.


Janet Iles said...

Thank you for your great reminder to all of us to consider what will become of our research.

Perhaps some of us will join you and make the organization of our research our primary goal in 2011. I know I should.

hummer said...

This is very true. I have been trying to clean up and organize my files for months. My problem is stopping long enough since so much information is coming in to get caught up.

The Grandmother Here said...

The basic facts that I have collected about our family are in a computer program, with some pictures attached. This I have put on flashdrives and have given to my daughters. But I still have disorganized files to figure out how to organize. Thanks for the encouragement.

The Lurking Genealogist said...

I had an organization system that I outgrew. I recently started again and am enjoying my scanner and putting everything in notebooks. Proud of the results, but it is a lot of work.

The added benefit of going through your files and purging documents is that you find clues that you either didn't see before or ignored. I just found 2 passenger lists for some of my brick walls.

I hope I outlast the organization process.

I plan on donating my books to libraries in our area that do not have copies of the books and would like one. There will be certain books that stay with the organized notebooks.

This is as far as I have gotten in the process.

JL said...

If you've got 40 years of unsorted paper, you've got yourself a situation. I don't know that any amount of commiseration will help.

I wouldn't recommend my own method because it would take months, if not years starting from scratch. Scan everything you've got, connect it by numbers, colors or whatever you want, to your paper files and your database. Back it all up to several places. Leave notes about it all to your executor and carry on.

See what I mean?

Genealogy Blogger said...

Great points everyone. I didn't mean to mislead you though - JL you commented that if I've got 40 years of unsorted papers I'm in a mess. I don't have 40 years worth of unsorted papers but I do have 40 years worth of research. Much of it is filed neatly in folders in my filing cabinets. Much of it is scanned. Much of it is entered in my computer program. But much of it is not filed, nor is it scanned and not every single bit is entered in my computer program. So I need to figure out a NEW organization system and get at it. I've written about this before, how my organizational ideas have changed over the years and how I keep changing the way I handle my research. Now I'm on a new phase and it's an ongoing one

JL said...

I did not say 'mess'. I was very careful not to say 'mess'.

I've used my own version of the MRIN Filing System for the last five or six years and I have not changed my mind although I listen to other people writing about other methods all the time.

On the other side of your question about who to leave it to:

I don't know that historical societies or libraries are any better organized than anyone and it would probably go into a pile somewhere waiting for someone else to discover it eventually.

My family: ho-hum

I think the bottom line is that I do what I do, and other people do what they do, and genealogy is only one thing in millions that people can spend their time being passionate about and that's just life.

Genealogy Blogger said...

Hey JL I'm not offended! I paraphrased I know but if there was 40 years worth unsorted papers wouldn't that be a mess? :-)

JL said...

I've found that pack rats (like us ... ahem)do not like their 'collections' (ahem) referred to as 'messes'. If it was mine I'd either be very comfortable with it by now, or (if I suddenly found myself in the midst of it) I would sit down and cry.

I've also found that we take ourselves pretty seriously when it comes to organizing and annotating the possessions and paperwork of the dead. I'm not sure why exactly. I'm not sure if I have time to think about it today, but I'll put it on my list.

If I don't get the dishes-of-the-living washed I could fall victim to a plague.

Travis LeMaster said...

Thanks for reminding us that we need to be thinking of what will become of this research. A few years ago, I made a CD at Christmas to give to relatives, hoping at least some of it would be passed on. I intend to use these suggestions about putting instructions with my binders, etc. about who should have the information. Great comments!

GeneRooter said...

Thank you for the much needed kick in the behind. I have pictures from the daguerrotype days that belong in a genealogical society, and I know just the one!
So get busy, m'dear (that's me) and do what's necessary.